I took up telemark skiing late last February, with no prior downhill experience, and about 5 seasons of Nordic skiing experience behind me. My friend David had told me he was going up to VT. this week with hopes of skinning up and skiing down the famous Teardrop Trail of Mt. Mansfield, if there was enough snow. I felt like I might be getting in over my head, but, then again, this is what my original intentions were when I got into telemarking last spring. I wished I had more than effectively 3 months of downhill skiing experience under my belt, but, eh, I couldn't pass up the opportunity!
Initial feelers of the locals were discouraging, as they told us snow was very scarce in the back country. David was pretty determined to go, however, and convinced me that we should at least go to the trail head for a first hand "look see" for ourselves. We could always head on to Smuggler's Notch if things looked really dismal. We arrived at Underhill SP around 11am, ready to take on the challenge of the Teardrop Trail. We parked at the lower parking area and hiked up the unplowed road to the entrance to the trail. It was pretty tracked out and the cover seemed thinner than ideal, but given the lack of snowfall this year, we've adopted an "I'll take what I can get" attitude and decided it was good enough. We skinned up our skis and began the ascent. We didn't think this through thoroughly enough, and had failed to bring a trail map with us. I had studied the map in the Goodman back country skiing book pretty intensely on our drive up and had a pretty good image of the trails in my mind, but it wasn't a perfect memory.
And so, we took a left when we should have taken a right, and eventually found ourselves at a dead end. We spied skier tracks across a brook, though, and crossed over to see where they might have come from. It looked like up on the ridge, where we thought we might find the trail again, so we followed the tracks through often dense brush and undergrowth, between grabby saplings, and such, until we were finally up on the ridge, where, lo and behold, we came across a trail, but not the Teardrop Trail. I felt that the trail would eventually intersect with the Teardrop Trail if we took a right on it to head back in the general direction we'd come from, but David was reluctant to follow it without knowing for sure where it would lead. He felt we'd be better off if we backtracked the way we came, back to the original trail and continued to the right. And so... we did. It probably took us an hour for our little side excursion, but eventually we got back down to the main path and kept following it up. Eventually, it became evident that THIS was the Teardrop Trail, and we'd been on it all along, no turn was required. We climbed up a fairly steep length of trail, crossing over the WB/Underhill Trail. Hrm, the blazes on the trees marking the trail looked suspiciously similar to the ones we'd seen on the trail we'd found on the ridge during our bushwhacking expedition, but... maybe all the hiking trails up there are marked that way.
Finally the trail leveled out for about 50 feet, before continuing up at an even steeper grade. Already having serious doubts about my ability to ski down what we'd just skinned up, I told David this was the end of the trail for me, at least on this day.
We stopped to refuel, get our bearings, de-skin, and put on another layer before the descent back down to the car. After futzing around with gear and clothing, we finally embarked on the descent. It was actually quite a bit more manageable than I expected it to be, although I could not successfully link more than two turns at a time. That was okay, though. I was happy to not have to throw in the towel and hike down, which I had been prepared to do if my descent turned into a total train wreck.
I tried different tactics... small, explosive hop turns, which worked well enough but were tiring, and longer turns that ran out into the trees along the sides of the trail. I haven't done much glade skiing at all yet, so that was a bit hair-raising for me, but I only managed to affectionately hug a couple trees, and not slam into them. I tried to stay in the troughs that other skiers had already created,and was fairly successful with that strategy, but some of the turns were too tight for me to negotiate. There was a fair amount of side-slipping going on in those instances. Finally the trail leveled back out and it was fairly easy xc-style skiing back down to the road, with some rocks and logs obstacles to avoid, and a couple stream crossings. All things considered... not a bad way to spend a sunny, early February day!!
The unplowed road you hiked to get to the trail and I are old friends. I wrapped my truck around a tree in there "goofing" around on a spring day....truck spent the night...took three of us to get er out the nex day.
You have an unbelievable amount of determination and have come a long way since your first day on teles at last years Hickory Telefest! It's been a pleasure watching you progress so quickly. Next year plan on joining me, Pammy, Roch Mark and Rippa Sista on a western trip. Very nice trip report! Please post about your other VT pursuits.
Thanks, PQ!!! I was waiting for David at the bottom of the blue groomers at Mt. Ellen Tuesday most of the time. He was like, "Dang, you ski fast!!!" I was like, "I have to, so I can keep up with PQ and Pammy!!!" LOL!!!
@Camp, I bet!!! That road was really icy in spots. I almost went down on the ice a couple times in my boots!
Initial feelers of the locals were discouraging, as they told us snow was very scarce in the back country.
Once you start getting above 2000 the snow depth changes quite a bit and it's nowhere near scarce. Just needed to venture away from the trail. Don't know how far up the TD you made it, but when you start getting close to Stowe you can dive in off to the left as you are going up
Yep, I'm not sure how high up we made it either, but those photos are similar to what we saw in the trees off the sides of the trail. It was nice stuff out there! But, as I said, I've not done much tree skiing, so I didn't venture too far off the sides.
PQ, the Sugarbush report already sums up what Mt. Ellen was like on Tues., so no need to repeat that. We stopped at the Moosalamoo Nat'l Rec. Area near Waterbury on our way up, hoping to do the Moosalamoo Trail, but the snow coverage was REALLY thin there. We were both really disappointed. But, we did get a nice 30-45 minute hike in while scoping things out.
After we got to the Hostel Tavere, we went to the Hyde Away for dinner and to make plans for the next day. While we were there, we talked about doing the Lincoln Gap that the Hostel owner had told us about. It was a clear night, and a nearly full moon, so I was really itching to get out. So, around 9pm, we drove up there to where they stopped plowing the road. We got out and hiked a short way up the road. David kept repeating, "This is insane. We really shouldn't do this." To which I replied, "Oh, right... didn't I tell you? When you're with me, you're bound to do some things bordering on insanity." LOL!!! I mean, come on, we'd come this far already, the snow was nice, what the heck???? Let's bang this out!!
So we skinned up a ways. It was BEAUTIFUL out!!! The moon was so bright, it was almost like daylight out there, and there were deep moonshadows cast by the trees painted across the snow. It was breathtaking!! I missed the part when David accidentally skidded off the side of the road and down into the ravine while using the "men's room," (because I was purposely looking in the other direction) LOL!!!! But the brambles and trees and stuff stopped him before he went too far. Oops. The ski back down was fast and fairly uneventful.... nice. I'm really glad we did it!
You never know until you go. And for me it is better than I expect almost every time.
I actually found that I was less "afraid" being in the middle of nowhere in the winter (vs summer/fall). The bears are asleep, the leaves are off the trees and you always have your tracks to retrace your steps. (And if you don't it's dumping!) Many of my best ski days involved making a choice to backtrack instead of guess.
This is a really fun trip report. It really reminds me of adventures I've had.
Oh yeah, I am much braver during the winter, too, for the same reasons you mentioned, Harv!
I definitely recommend Mt. Mansfield if you're (or anyone here is hungry for some back country skiing. The snow was really quite good up there. Maybe not as deep as it usually is, but it was like heaven for those of us who still have green lawns at home.